Friday, February 5, 2010

Away We Go

Is there a director more out of place then Sam Mendes? If he was making films in the studio era, his arch formalism, lush palette, and panache for melodrama, would have him remembered as a filmmaker on par with Minneli or Wyler. As is he’s dismissed as a pusher of middlebrow prestige films at best an overwrought hack at worst.

Now before we begin to pity Mendes too much let us remember that any life that includes frequent sex with Kate Winslet cannot by any stretch be called uncharmed. Still I can’t help but stubbornly like Mendes, and wish he got more credit.

More so then anything he’s ever made Away We Go feels like its reaching for that credit with the film nerds. Tired of Mendes making artfully constructed dramas? Fine here’s a semi improvisational comedy. You can practically hear him screaming off screen “LOOK ITS GOT NATURAL LIGHT AND EVERYTHING AND THERE’S NOT PROPER HEAD ROOM IN THE FRAME! WHAT MORE DO YOU BASTARDS WANT!!!” Short of making a James Bond film its hard to think of what more Mendes could have done to shake up his style (Oh shit). You can feel him nearly sob in relief on those rare occasions where he does get to compose a shot.

What Mendes really brings to Away We Go, is that great affect that happens when a forgien director makes a movie set in America. American directors tend to turn up their noses at flyover country, Forgein directors find a weird and wild beauty in it (Call it the Paris Texas effect). For much of its runtime Away We Go is just a literal pleasure to watch.

Away We Go, follows Burt and Verona, a longtime couple settling uneasy into their early thirties. Spurred by Verona’s pregnancy and Burt’s parents (A ditzy Jeff Daniels is particularly good here) absconding to Belgum (Where they always dreamed of going. in a perfect random touch.) the two embark on an impromptu road trip.

The trip begins with an encounter with the mind boggling venal old boss of Verona’s. Who introduces herself by calling her ten year old daughter a dyke and then describing her boobs as “An Old Man’s Nutsack” (the more gentle in spirit will be forgiven for reaching for their DVD remotes then and there). She’s joined by her husband, a superb Jim Gaffigan who in one jaw droppingly nihilistic moment starts listing off things that would be destroyed in a “Flood of Biblical Porportions” over dinner, apropos to nothing. It’s a sequence set in Suburbia so vicious, that makes Mende’s American Beauty look like something produced by the chamber of commerce.

And that’s the thing about Away We Go, it is at times a supremely ugly movie. I’d attribute this more to screenwriter Eggers then Mendes, but that doesn’t make it any more pleasant to watch. For the first hour of the movie nearly everyone they meet are at some level smug, shrill or otherwise reprehensible, and the exceptions to the rule (Verona’s sister) we hardly spend any time with. Its an odd question to ask but don’t they know any nice people? The film does eventually balance out but it hits you with a lot early. (To give credit where its due, Eggers proves himself an equal opportunity lambaster, he takes on the Bourgeoisie in no uncertain terms, but his take on Maggie Gylhenhaal’s [Delightfully obliviously passive aggressive] ultra “enlightened” professor is equally no holds barred).

Still what saves Away We Go, Is Krasinski and Rudolph. Neither are actors you can accuse of having a great deal of range, but both are intrisicably likable. And they make the central couple in Away We Go, true to life and worth caring about almost as a force of will.

1 comment:

Franco Macabro said...

I always wondered why if they had a place that they had inherited and it was free, and it was such a beautiful place to live in, why did they go on that road trip? I would have gone straight to the beautiful house by the lake first!

But then the movie would not have made its point of showing us how differently everyone raises their children.